The Google Streetview below is Brokaw Rd, in San Jose. It is a fairly typical high-speed arterial in San Jose. It crosses four freeways, and the official speed limit is 45mph (with predominant speeds considerably higher). Though it has Class II bike lanes, there is just a trickle of bike traffic.
Silicon Valley has one of the highest automobile mode-shares and worst traffic congestion in the nation. It also has one of the most disfunctional transit agencies. For those looking for alternatives to the car, bicycle ought to be logical choice. The flat terrain and perfect climate ought to provide ideal habitat for utility cycling. But thus far, cycle mode share is negligible.
The Brokaw bike lane shows us why.
Riding alongside high volume and high-speed traffic is nerve shattering. Class II bike lanes are great for slower streets, but the minimal buffer they provide is of little help for freeway-style arterials. Even worse are the many driveways into the strip malls, any one of which is opportunity for driver to commit right-hook across the bike lane. As a result of these hazards, the facility fails to attract any cyclists beyond the hard-core helmet- and lycra-wearing sports enthusiasts.
One key element of cycling planning in Holland is the use of physically-separated bike paths. These vastly increase the comfort level, attracting all levels of bicyclists. A recent project in New York City imitated this concept. The Sands Street approach to the Manhattan bridge is a real innovation: a first-of-its-kind center-median, physically-separated bikeway. Wow.
Imagine something like this running down the center of Brokaw. And other Silicon Valley arterials. It eliminates the right-hook hazard at driveways. The traffic signals are already installed at each intersection. And there is more than enough right-of-way.
The Sands Street project is just the latest in a string of quality bike and ped projects in New York. At the risk of sounding sexist, it is probably no accident that these kinds of projects originated with a woman in charge of NYC Dept. of Transportation (Janette Sadik-Khan).
Transportation engineering (and the cycle advocacy groups) have been historically male-dominated professions. These idiot male engineers tend to design facilities like the one on Brokaw, which are fine for lycra-clad racers, but not so good for more risk-adverse female cyclists.
No surprise, then, that a recent Scientific American article, reports that even in so-called bike-friendly cities, the vast majority of utility bicyclists are male:
In the U.S., men’s cycling trips surpass women’s by at least 2:1. This ratio stands in marked contrast to cycling in European countries, where urban biking is a way of life and draws about as many women as men—sometimes more. In the Netherlands, where 27 percent of all trips are made by bike, 55 percent of all riders are women. In Germany 12 percent of all trips are on bikes, 49 percent of which are made by women. “If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,” says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.
Women are considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities for several reasons… studies across disciplines as disparate as criminology and child rearing have shown that women are more averse to risk than men.